Before the Spanish came, the Andes held a history of migration and conquest as complex as anywhere on earth, but we know little of it other than indirectly. It is as if the Spaniards came with a big eraser and tried to wipe the slate clean, although faint hints and traces remain.
South and East of Cuzco the remains of a great city and temple complex arise. The city was already silent when the Inca rule, even though it left a weight that seemed to influence all around. Though the Spanish used many of its stones to build their buildings, still much remained, including the massive statues like voiceless people just waiting for the right time to open their mouths.
Chroniclers, such as Betanzos, mention these stone men as being early creations of God and speak of the Incas coming from the Lake, by implication carrying the heritage of this great place that seemed to have been their at the beginning of time when all things were created.
Called Tiwanaku, it is a site with a distinctive iconography, sets of images that speak of sacred things. Pottery with these images have been found throughout much of the southern Andes and seem to speak of an Empire that grew from lowland jungle to Pacific coast, all south of Cuzco.
Archeologists find the remains and debate how the Tiwanaku Empire was created and lasted: it seems to have perdured far longer than the Inca of more recent memory. Yet there are so many things they do not know.
They did not understand whether Tiwanaku set up an empire built among local peoples interacting with administration or whether it involved the massive movement of peoples, though they suspected the latter. They wondered how the people of Tiwanaku, if transplanted interacted and with others living near them.
To advance an answer to this question, a team of scholars from Argentina and the United States explored the cranial remains, the skulls, of Tiwanaku populations in the Azapa Valley of Arica, Chile, and on its coast with crania from the Cochabamba Valley in Bolivia.
Their results show that the people who lived in the Azapa Valley are more related to the people of Cochabamba, Bolivia on the opposite side of the Andes, than they are to the people who live on the coast nearby.
They argue this shows a high level of migration and contact between the two regions, as well as a common origin, although over time these populations intermarried with locals.
Nevertheless, their study adds evidence for the argument that there was difference biologically, as well as socially and economically between the coastal peoples and those who lived near them just up valley. It also supports the idea of migration during the rise of Tiwanaku adding to the separation between the two peoples and establishing ties across large expanses of space between populations.
The Andes embrace a mosaic of peoples who, as empires rose and fell, themselves migrated or maintained themselves in separate groups. This study provides a slight opening into that complex historical process of people in movement.